It was a night for believers at Deer Valley on Thursday night. Maybe you believe in the God that was mentioned in Lyle Lovett's gospel-heavy set with His Large band, or you put your faith in the voice of Emmylou Harris, who I believe may actually be an angel sent here to Earth—or perhaps you're more like me and you just simply know the healing effect live music has on the soul. No matter. It was all there Thursday night.
At nearly 6:30 on the nose, as people still were filing into their seats, Emmylou Harris came onto the stage with her three-member band. There was no announcement. There was very little reception from the crowd (in fact, the large group of people in the row ahead of me stood through the first three songs of her set, but I digress).
It was seven songs in, after a stunning version of Simon and Garfunkel tune, “The Boxer” that she even said her name. “I'm Emmylou Harris, by the way,” she told the crowd, who by that point had at least started paying some attention. “Just in case y'all thought I was just some girl up here singing. Some girl? I'm 69! I've been doing this a very long time.”
At 69, she's still beautiful enough to take one's breath away, with that shock of white hair, those high cheekbones, those doe eyes and that lilting southern drawl that turns into a singing voice that is somehow both feathery and soulful. Harris is the real deal, and came on tour backed by a band that includes two women she's toured with since 1985.
Her setlist included “Spanish Dancer” a song she recently recorded with Rodney Crowell but noted was penned by Patti Scialfa, “She's married to that guy Bruce Springsteen,” Harris quipped. “Orphan Girl,” “Here I am,” “Her Hair Was Red,” and “Red Dirt Girl,” which she told the crowd was not based on her own life. “I had a very happy childhood,” she said, “So I made some stuff up.”
For the encore, Harris started with “After The Gold Rush” by Neil Young, whom she called a “Great Canadian philosopher,” and finished with “Bright Morning Stars,” with tremendous, spine-tingling harmonizing from her band. Saying she'd written the song during a time that the events of the world seemed difficult to take, Harris said, “I still believe. I believe in people. I believe in goodness.”
I don't know about all that. But I know that I believe in Emmylou Harris.
After what was described as the quickest set change ever, and as the sun was setting and the crowd had finally settled down, it was time for Lyle Lovett and His Large band to take the stage.
Ever the classy southern Gentleman, Lovett and His Large Band (and, by the way, it's not just a clever name—it really is a large band) are always dressed in suits and ties, and they were joined onstage last night for their opening songs by nine members of Salt Lake City Mass Choir, a Utah-based gospel choir (I know. I know. Sometimes the jokes just write themselves. But trust me, these guys were good).
Starting with the rousing gospel “I'm a Solider in the Army of the Lord” with the Mass Choir and Francine Reed joining Lovett on vocals, Lyle and His Large Band certainly set a tone far different than the calm and reflective one that Emmylou Harris built before him. This was a more celebratory, raucous trip through musical genres. Because lets be clear: Lyle Lovett defies genres. He's a little bit country, a little bit rock-and roll, a little bit folk, and a little bit spoken-word beatnik poet with a generous heaping of stand-up comic thrown in for good measure.
But, last night at Deer Valley, the set list was heavy on gospel for the first three songs, then transitioned to a more classic Lyle Lovett, before bringing Emmylou Harris back onstage to reminisce about the late, great, Guy Clark and to sing a couple of his songs and returning again to gospel at the end of the show.
Throughout the set, members of the Large Band came and went, until at one point, when just Lovett and fiddler Luke Bulla remained onstage and Lovett quipped, “Where the heck is everybody?” Lovett and his band appear to have a rapport—Lovett walked the audience through each member of the band, and how long they'd been touring, where they were from and usually with a short story of some sort.
Once the band returned, they hit on all the songs expected at a Lyle Lovett show, “If I Had a Boat,” “Here I Am,” “That's Right You're Not From Texas,” and “She's No Lady” all came in at that point in the night.
But when Lovett, who built in plenty of his moments for each member of his band to shine throughout the evening stepped aside and allowed Francine Reed to take over for a minute, magic happened. A soulful powerhouse, when Reed sang “Wild Women Don't Get the Blues” and then followed it up by reminding the crowd that it was written in 1924 and first performed by an all women jazz band, the crowd went wild. The Large Band makes some noise, but I'm pretty sure those boys have nothing on the sounds coming from Reed's mouth.
Then the choir came back. Earlier in the night, Lovett had said of them, “We sent them the music a few weeks back and when we got here they know it better than we did.” While a slight exaggeration, clearly, the Salt Lake Mass Choir was having a great time on that stage and holding their own with some world-class musicians.
When Lovett told the crowd about his long-lasting relationship with Emmylou Harris, he said, “you have to be very careful when inviting me over, because I will show up.” It was clear last night that the crowd at Deer Valley was glad he showed up there.